EchidnaCSI Spring Update

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Project update

A lot has happened since our last newsletter update. We ran a campaign to discover the motivations behind citizen science participation, and reached over 6000 sightings (take a look at the distribution map above to see what we have learned so far about where echidnas are living across the country!).
We have also added a few members to the EchidnaCSI team - scroll down to find out more. We are hard at work in the lab extracting DNA from scats, analysing survey responses, and writing papers. We can't wait to share our results with you! 

Below is important news for you.

Motivation Survey

We recently ran a campaign asking our participants to tell us about why and how they like to participate in our project. We received a massive 1103 responses and we couldn't be more thrilled!

Now that the survey is done and dusted, we would like to share some of our preliminary findings with you. Here are some quick facts:

  • 65% of respondents have submitted data to EchidnaCSI, while 35% have not
  • 57% have a Bachelor degree education or above - however, 60% had a science education up to Yr 11 or 12
  • 57% of respondents are involved in other volunteering
We are aiming to submit this data (and more!) for publication in a research paper soon. Stay tuned for more information regarding our publications in future newsletters. 

We also received a number of questions about using the app, as well as about the project itself. In response to this, we have set up a new FAQ section on our website - check it out here!

Roadkill is important

It's not the nicest topic to cover, but information about the number of echidna roadkill is very important. Being hit by cars is a leading cause of death for these little guys. If you do see a dead echidna, you can easily let us know by submitting photos through the app or BioCollect - when it asks for the 'state of the animal', select 'dead'. As it is coming to the end of breeding season, many females will be pregnant or be carrying puggles (baby echidnas), so if you do find any deceased echidnas, check for pouches and young! Please be careful around busy roads.
If in Adelaide, please contact us - we may be able to collect the echidna as tissue is always valuable for our research.

First DNA results

Our first large DNA dataset from echidna scats is currently under analysis. We selected 8 echidna scat samples that had been sent to us from the most varied regions across Australia as possible. DNA was extracted from all samples and then underwent what is known as shotgun sequencing - essentially giving us a look at all the DNA in the samples so we can see what food they’ve been eating, what species of bacteria are living in their guts and also gain some genetic information from the echidnas’ themselves.

From first look at the data we can see all 8 echidnas have ants in their diet, but they also have a variety of plants and fungi too with no two echidnas having the same diet. Shotgun sequencing is very expensive, which is why only 8 samples could be analysed using this technique, however, the remaining 300 scats that have been sent in are undergoing a more targeted genetic technique to investigate the insect and bacteria communities found in them.

Tahlia has spent over 300 hours in the past 2 months extracting the DNA from these samples, so we’ll see the next lot of genetic results very soon!

Meet the new EchidnaCSI team members

Ella is currently undertaking her honours at the University of Adelaide within Ecology and Environmental Science. She is investigating the differences between the microbiomes of captive echidnas, specifically analysing the scats of captive echidnas from Taronga, Perth and Adelaide Zoo. Hopefully an insight into their gut bacteria can lead to better captive management strategies across zoos worldwide. 
Imma is undertaking her honours in science communication. She designed a campaign across our social media platforms to address key motivations of citizen science volunteers. This will help establish whether a social media campaign addressing participants’ motivations should be invested in on a long-term basis, and for which kinds of posts resources should be dedicated in the future. Her project will inform EchidnaCSI's social media strategy going forward, and could be used by other small citizen science projects for their own social media presence.

6000 Submissions!

We are thrilled to announce that we have reached over 6000 submissions. We want to thank everyone who has submitted data to EchidnaCSI - we wouldn't be here without your dedication! 

The photo above is the lucky 6000th sighting. It was submitted by a user in Temora, NSW. It shows how well echidnas camouflage into their environment - you can see it hiding in the midground of the snap. 

Keep them coming!

As the weather becomes warmer echidnas will begin to hide in the cool depths of their burrows. Until then, keep an eye out and let's continue this spree of submissions! At this time of year you may even be lucky enough to spot a puggle.

If you have any questions about the project or echidnas please don't hesitate to contact us - either through email or Facebook.

All the best, from EchidnaCSI

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